Chelsea’s former manager Roberto Di Matteo was backed with new signings last summer, whereas Spurs’ AVB was forced to rebuild his squad. The Portuguese deserves great credit for still being in touch with his west London neighbours.
In order to give you some idea of just how good a job Andre Villas-Boas has done in his maiden season at Tottenham, let us consider an alternate reality involving his former employer and last night’s opponents, Chelsea.
Last season Spurs finished two places and five points above Chelsea (we all know what happened in Munich), so it’s safe to assume the two squads were not so far apart in quality ahead of the summer.
Imagine, for a moment, that sometime towards the end of last season, Chelsea dramatically secure planning permission to build a new stadium on the site of Battersea Power Station.
Imagine that owner Roman Abramovich decides this new stadium is going to be the grandest in the land, finer than Old Trafford and the Emirates, finer even than the Allianz Arena – the scene of his greatest triumph – and it is to be his legacy, not only to the club, but to the world.
Imagine, not unreasonably, that rather than spending vast sums of money rebuilding the squad, the Russian decides that all major investment must be channelled into building Roman Way (for that is what he will name this modern wonder of the footballing world).
Imagine that Abramovich tells his manager Roberto Di Matteo that, despite last season’s lowly league position, there will not be significant investment in the squad over the summer. In fact, so urgent is the need for funds that the team’s most creative player, Juan Mata, is sold to Real Madrid for £27m.
Frustrated by Mata’s departure, Di Matteo is stunned to hear that his best goalscoring midfielder, Frank Lampard, is having marital problems and, as a result, has decided to move to Bundesliga outfit SV Hamburg in order to attend a well-renowned marriage counselling clinic in the area. After years of fine service, the club does not stand in his way.
On top of these two losses, the Italian learns that club captain, (leader and legend) John Terry, is to retire immediately, citing persistent knee problems.
Di Matteo, rocking from this triple blow, informs his superior of his transfer targets; they are pricey but proven performers, who should help the squad overcome the losses sustained.
The Russian is having none of it. The targets are too expensive; his new stadium and legacy too important.
With some of the money banked from Mata’s sale, Abramovich does, however, buy his manager a top centre-half, Jan Vertonghen, to replace Terry and a new goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris – both of whom are internationals going cheap.
Di Matteo tentatively asks for more. He is desperately in need of creative midfield and attacking reinforcements.
Abramovich agrees to spend £15m on Mousa Dembele from neighbours Fulham, and decides to anger the old enemy Liverpool by buying their top two targets, Glyfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey.
These are not Di Matteo’s men, but he cannot complain. He would have preferred Victor Moses of Wigan, the Brazilian sensation Oscar and Belgium’s latest superstar Eden Hazard.
Just as the season begins and the young manager is feeling a little more settled, he learns that key centre-half Branislav Ivanovic requires knee surgery and is likely to miss the entire campaign.
But come January, Chelsea are on course to achieve their objectives. Di Matteo’s side sit in the top four of the Premier League, with eyes on faltering Man City rather than the chasing pack.
However, it is glaringly obvious that the club need new blood in the transfer window, particularly after Ramires is ruled out for the rest of the season with cruciate ligament damage.
Abramovich again refuses to act, signing only the talented but inexperienced Lewis Holtby for a cut-price fee, ignoring the need for a new striker…
We could go on but let us now return to reality. As ridiculous as the above scenario may sound, it would be hard to imagine the long-since-sacked Di Matteo, or indeed any manager, guiding Chelsea into the top four given such a summer of upheaval and lack of significant investment from the boardroom.
And yet this was, and still is, the reality facing Villas-Boas at White Hart Lane.
Luka Modric and Rafa van der Vaart were sold, Ledley King retired and Younes Kaboul has missed the entire season. Sandro, the team’s star performer before Gareth Bale turned superhuman, played his last match in January.
Their replacements, while not to be sniffed at, have not been of the same ilk.
Try telling a Spurs fan that Dempsey is anywhere near Van der Vaart’s class, while Dembele, although a sublime talent, is not yet at Modric’s level.
Villas-Boas and Spurs have benefited from the superb form of one of the world’s best players, but one world class player does not equate to Champions League football, as Alan Shearer’s Newcastle or Luis Suarez’s Liverpool will testify.
If Tottenham fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League, for their fans there will be disappointment twinged with regret, particularly after blowing another lead over Arsenal.
But any suggestion Villas-Boas will have failed is absurd; amid transition, injuries and a lack of support from above, the 35-year-old has done a tremendous job to remain in touch with both Chelsea and Arsenal with two games still to play.
Any anger at the prospect of another season in the Europa League should be directed not at the coach but at a chairman who failed to back the Portuguese in January, despite compelling evidence that Spurs could push for second given the right reinforcements.
Villas-Boas was understandably like a man possessed on his return to Stamford Bridge yesterday evening, his desperation for victory etched into every line on his intelligent countenance.
Spurs, in a manner that has become typical under his guidance, dug deep to secure a valuable point against an illustrious opposition, who strengthened significantly in the summer.
Villas-Boas should not be unhappy with his lot but he could be forgiven for being envious of his successors’ spending power at Stamford Bridge, and is entitled to wonder, as should you, how others would have coped at Spurs or Chelsea with the hand he has been dealt.